The Opposites of Wisdom

by Michael Fischer

This message is an expansion of a message I bring to my junior-church class every few years, to make sure they get it. When we talk about the opposite of wisdom, you'd probably say "folly" or "foolishness." But that's just one of the opposites of wisdom. According to the Bible, there are three opposites of wisdom, and we're going to look at all of them.

There are some Bible verses I'd like people to look up in advance, and be ready to read out loud when I ask you. Can I have a volunteer for:

Our first question ought to be, "What is wisdom?" A good definition would be, "Wisdom is knowing right and wrong, and knowing to choose the right."

There's a lot more I could say about wisdom, but I'd need an entire sermon series to do justice to the subject, and I don't have those messages prepared yet. So we'll focus on the opposites of wisdom.

Why? Shouldn't we focus our attention on what God has commanded, instead of on our natural state? Absolutely, when we're talking about us Christians. But we all bump into non-believers all the time. Most of us have some non-believers in our own families. And they often do things that make no sense at all to us. We shake our heads and ask, "Why did he do that? Why did she say that?" Mostly because they don't have wisdom. They can't. The Bible says so.

Psalms 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

So if you're going to try to get wisdom, you have to start with the fear of the Lord. But what does Paul say about lost people?


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and lost people have no fear of the Lord, so a lost person cannot be wise. They can't even get to first base when it comes to wisdom. So when you try to share the Gospel with them, or bring some kind of Biblical truth to their attention, and they just pooh-pooh it or make excuses, and you ask yourself, "Why do they do that?" It's because that's the best they can do. As it says in I Corinthians 2:14,

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

So all lost people, by definition, are unwise. Unfortunately, too many Christians are also unwise.

As a down-to-earth way of explaining wisdom and non-wisdom, I'm going to use the example of a camp fire, and someone who has never seen a camp fire before, maybe someone who has lived in the big city all his life. A wise person will look at that fire and think, "That's so pretty! But if I stick my hand in it, I'll get burned. So I won't stick my hand in it." That's a really basic example of wisdom in action. We'll see how the unwise handle the same situation.

As I said earlier, there are three opposites of wisdom in the Word. Here's the first one. (reader)

Psalms 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.

The simple, or the naive, depending on your translation. This is a person who isn't wise because he hasn't been taught. He just doesn't know any better. And, as the verse says, the testimony of the Lord gives wisdom to the simple. They can learn through teaching in general, specifically through being taught the Word of God. They don't always see the benefit of learning in advance, but they do benefit from it.

A simple person will look at a camp fire and think, "That's so pretty!" And he'll try to reach out and touch it. But a wise person will stop him and say, "No! Don't stick your hand in the fire! Burny-burny!" And the simple will stop and think, "Hey, that fire is hot. Heat, plus meat, equals barbeque! Hey, I think he's right. I won't touch it." And the simple has just become wise in the ways of camp fires.

There is nothing wrong with being simple, if you haven't been taught. When we become Christians, none of us knows the Bible. We may have read it in the past, but without the Spirit of God in us, we couldn't truly understand us. We're all simple when we get saved. That's what sermons and Sunday schools are for — to apply the Word of God to us, and to make wise the simple.

When people first get saved, they're simple. They may have a head full of religion, but they're realized that religion isn't the answer, and they're like dry sponges, waiting to have the Word poured all over them. Is there anything more refreshing than a new Christian with all their so-called beginner's questions? I say so-called because, sometimes, there are older Christians listening who would like to ask the same question, but they don't dare ask because they think people will look down on them for not knowing. That's called pride. New Christians don't have that problem, because they're new at this and everybody knows it.

I once read of some missionaries to the Quechua people of Bolivia, dealing with their first converts in a mountain village. Someone would come up to them and say, "Just one more question I want to ask you," and ask something. Then someone else would come up and say the same thing, with a different question. This went on until well past midnight. Their spiritual curiosity had no limits. It's a beautiful thing when the simple want to become wise. And it's so easy — all we have to do is teach them. God made it that way.

But if someone has been a Christian for ten or fifteen years, and they still don't know the Word well enough to guide them in making right decisions, then we have a problem. This is probably someone who doesn't want to learn. They're content to remain baby Christians all their lives, lacking in wisdom, and usually expecting others to be wise for them. This is not good. I won't dwell on this, but if it sounds like you, then the Holy Spirit can bring it to your mind.

The second kind of unwise person is found in Proverbs 26:3 — (reader)

Proverbs 26:3 A whip is for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, And a rod for the back of fools.

When we think of fools, we usually think of the village idiot. Somebody who's not too bright. But that's not what the Bible means by a fool. It's much worse.

The NIV has some interesting footnotes here and there, and the footnote to Proverbs 1:7 is instructive:

The Hebrew words rendered fool in Proverbs, and often elsewhere in the Old Testament, denote one who is morally deficient.
Morally deficient. That means they lack good morals. They don't care if they choose good or evil, because they usually don't know the difference. And if they do know the difference, they'll probably choose evil. They don't know any reason why they should choose the good. Being a fool is a very bad thing. That's why Jesus said in Matthew 5:22,

Matthew 5:22 "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

You can teach a fool all you like, from sunrise to sunset, but a fool will not learn by the Word. As it said in Proverbs 26:3, the way to control a fool's behavior is by the rod. The only school that can teach a fool anything is the school of hard knocks. Benjamin Franklin once said, "Nature keeps a dear school [that means a costly one], but fools will not learn in any other." Discipline, or natural consequences, are the only things that can give wisdom to a fool. In plain English, the only way he can learn is the hard way.

Let's consider our camp fire again. The fool looks at it and thinks, "That's so pretty!" And he'll try to reach out and touch it. But a wise person will stop him and say, "No! Don't stick your hand in the fire! Burny-burny!" And the fool answers and says unto him, "Yeah, right." And he sticks his hand in the fire to touch it. "Ow-w-w!" Five little bonfires! Puff, puff, puff, puff, puff. "Oooh, that smarts! I won't do that again." The fool has just become wise in the ways of camp fires. Will he make the same mistake with a gas stove? Probably. If you try to warn him about touching a gas stove, will he listen to you? No. He'll probably have to get burned again. A fool can become wise, but it's a long and painful process.

We all know a few fools in the work place, in school, wherever. But there's one particular kind of fool that just about everyone has to deal with on an ongoing basis at some point in their lives. (reader)

Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.

Our children are, by nature, fools. Even the clever ones, even the ones who are even-tempered and love to obey, come into this world morally deficient. A big part of our job as parents is to turn our kids from their natural paths into Godly paths, which are usually 180 degrees away from where your child wants to go. There are a lot of well-meaning people out there who tell you that you shouldn't spank your child, that a good talking-to is all they need. These people do not believe the Bible. The Word says that a child's heart has foolishness bound up in it — not just tacked onto it, bound up in it — and we need to drive it out, by "applying the board of education to the seat of learning." If you don't, you're leaving your child to grow up a fool. That child is headed for a world of hurt, and your heart is going to go along for the ride, like it or not.

Finally, we come to the third kind of unwise person. Depending on your translation, he may be called the scoffer, or the mocker, or the scorner. This sad soul is someone who actively rejects wisdom in any form. He mocks at it. It does him no good at all. (reader)

Proverbs 21:11 When the scoffer is punished, the naive becomes wise; But when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge.

Notice that punishment, which works for the fool, does nothing for the scoffer. Neither does teaching. It does say that the simple can become wise when a scoffer is punished; that's called "learning from other people's mistakes," and the simple can learn that way if they're on the ball. But a scoffer won't learn from anybody's mistakes. They don't learn, period.

These are the hard cases. They're the ones who say, for instance, "I was born a Catholic, and I'll die a Catholic, no matter where I wind up afterwards." You try to tell them about Jesus, and they just mock you. Jesus was surrounded by scoffers as He hung on the cross:

Matthew 27:41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 42 "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 "HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'"

There's nothing like a scoffer to make your blood boil when you're trying to do the right thing for God.

Our scoffer looks at the camp fire and thinks, "That's so pretty!" And he'll try to reach out and touch it. But a wise person will stop him and say, "No! Don't stick your hand in the fire! Burny-burny!" And the scoffer says, "Yeah, right." And he sticks his hand in the fire to touch it. "Ow-w-w!" Five little bonfires! Puff, puff, puff, puff, puff. "Ouch! That didn't work. Well, maybe if I do it real fast, it won't hurt." It does hurt. So he tries it left-handed. He tries it with his eyes closed. He does everything he can think of to do what he wants to do, and no matter how much he hurts himself, he will... not... learn that there are some things you just... can't... do.

Now, nobody would be dumb enough to repeatedly burn himself in a fire. But there are way too many people who repeatedly burn themselves with sin, until their consciences are seared with a hot iron, and the truth about God seems like distant nonsense to them. Barring a miracle of the Holy Spirit in their lives, those people will never, never, never find wisdom. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit still does miracles in people's lives. So we can have hope.

There's the principle. Now, we need some application. I believe very strongly in application. How do you use this information in real life?

Let's say you're dealing with someone who does not seem to be wise. How do you handle them? That depends.

If the person is simple, your course is simple. You teach them. You pray that they'll learn, and that they won't fall in with somebody who'll fill their head with lies. And you be patient with them. 2 Timothy 2:24 speaks about how the servant of the Lord should treat others, and Paul puts "able to teach" and "patient" right next to each other. That's not a coincidence. Sometimes the simple don't know which questions to ask. If you give them a rough answer, or if you look down on them for their ignorance, they'll learn to stop asking questions. Is that the lesson you want to teach someone?

If the person is a fool, you don't call him a fool to his face. You pray for him, and you don't hold your breath waiting for God to work in his life. God will definitely work, but not according to our timetable. And when something drastic happens in his life, don't go rushing in and try to help pick up the pieces. That's hard when it's someone you care about. But you asked God to give this person wisdom, and God is answering your prayer by sending the only thing that will teach a fool — hard knocks — so don't try to make it easy for him, or he won't learn. And then God will have to do something else to teach him, and it will be twice as bad for him.

If he's a scoffer, just stand back and pray. God can reach a scoffer (he reached me once). But He will do it His way, which we can never even imagine. It's tough when someone you love tries to make a mockery of all you hold dear. You have to trust God on this one.

Did you notice that, in all three cases, part of the right response is prayer? Okay, what should you pray for? For starters, ask God to give you insight. Unwise people don't usually wear name tags that say, "Hi, I'm simple," or, "Hello, I'm a fool." How do you know what kind of unwise person you're dealing with?

Start with the Word. See if the person is willing to learn. If the person is simple, he'll learn from the Word. And if he isn't, he's no worse off than he was before; the Word of God never did anyone any harm. The way to tell a fool from a mocker, unfortunately, is to let nature take its course and see how he reacts. That's hard, especially if it's someone you love. You want to run in and intervene, and spare him the painful consequences. But if he's actually a fool, you may be hindering him from learning. And if he's a mocker, he won't appreciate what you're doing. So, hard though it may be, you've got to stand back and let what's going to happen, happen.

Does that mean you let your children play with knives? No, children are a special case, because they haven't yet had the chance to learn most things. They need to be protected from dangerous situations until they've had the opportunity to learn about them. But if an adult is taking unsafe chances with sharp objects, you can't stop him, and it's just a question of whether they'll learn from being cut.

And if the person turns out to be wise? Teach them some more, from the Word, and pray for them some more, so that they'll become wiser. None of us is as wise as we need to be. I know I'm not. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. The end of wisdom is when we see God face to face, and we no longer have to make decisions about right and wrong, because in God's presence, every thing is right. But until that blessed day, we all have a lot of learning to do.

Proverbs 1:22 How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?

James 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

I hope I've helped make all of you a little wiser today.

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